Monday, March 17, 2008

Expert: Parents the key to safe Internet travel

by Andy Hoag | The Saginaw News
Thursday March 06, 2008, 10:46 AM

''Don't take candy from strangers'' simply isn't enough anymore, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Roth says.

In a presentation on Internet safety at Chesaning Middle School, Roth told a group of about 25 that explaining to children to avoid strangers while in public can only go so far.

''Now those people are in the privacy of their own homes,'' Roth said of child predators.

More than 30 million children in the United States use the Internet, Roth said. One in five have received a sexual solicitation or approach while online, and 1 in 25 have received an aggressive one, he said.

More alarming, Roth said, is that only 25 percent of children who have received such a solicitation tell their parents, and only 10 percent of those parents tell law enforcement authorities.

While he stopped short of blaming a lack of parental supervision in child sexual abuse cases, Roth did say parents must help prevent the crime from happening.

He offered several ways to get involved in a child's Internet use: Establish rules, communicate and educate them.

Parents can become too reluctant to establish Internet rules for their children, Roth said. But since they pay for the access for their children, they essentially need to take a my way or the highway approach.

Before a child views a Web site, Roth said, the parents should first view it to check its content. In addition, parents should restrict -- or, at the very least, monitor -- who the children are chatting with online.

He provided the example of one parent who reads his child's online address book every week and deletes any e-mail address or instant message screen name of anyone the child does not know personally.

Just as important in prevention is communication, because too often children who may have received a sexual solicitation online are reluctant to speak to their parents about it.

To help avoid such a situation, Roth said, remaining open and cool when talking with children is essential.

Education is equally important, because without knowledge of potentially dangerous Web sites and chat rooms, parents are generally in the dark about what their children are doing online, Roth said.

He recommended that parents ask their youngsters to show them the Web sites they view and the social networks -- for example, MySpace or Facebook -- they belong to.

''Pedophiles and predators don't go to 'pedophiles and predators only' chat rooms,'' Roth said. ''Where do they go when they want to talk to kids? Where the kids go.''

Educating the children is key, too, because they often don't understand the importance and magnitude of their online decisions. Besides not giving personal information online, Roth said children also must know that people they communicate with online ''may or may not be who they say they are.''

Finally, Roth said parents should maintain access to their child's online account. This, of course, requires knowing the child's user name and password.

''Know your child's password,'' Roth said emphatically. ''It's your responsibility.''

To receive more information, including interactive computer software, on Internet child sexual abuse prevention, go to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's Web site at

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